What are Digestive Enzymes?

What are Digestive Enzymes? The Gut Clinic Sara Knight Newcastle New Lambton

When it comes to digestive health, a critical yet commonly overlooked component is digestive enzymes. Enzymes are the chemicals that break down most of our food into smaller more usable components.

There are three types of enzymes in the human body:

1) Carbohydrate-specific

Starting in the mouth and continuing through until the small intestine - breaking down starches and carbohydrates into single sugar molecules

examples: amalyase, lactase, sucrase, fructase, tilactase

2) Protein-specific

Break down protein into amino acids which occurs in both the stomach and the small intestine

example: protease

3) Fat-specific 

Breaks down fats, when combined with bile in the small intestine, to single fat molecules

example: lipase

All right I will stop geeking out - the short story: the overall objective of the digestive enzymes is to break down food into molecules that can be absorbed and therefore utilised by the body.  

Symptoms of Low Enzymes

When your body is lacking in enzymes, the food we eat, no matter how healthy, won't be adequately broken down. This leads to symptoms such as:

  • a heavy feeling following meals - as if a rock is sitting in your stomach after you eat
  • belching, abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and vomiting (dyspepsia)
  • flatulence
  • undigested food in stools
  • fatigue, low energy and vitamin and mineral deficiency can also result

(Noting many of these symptoms are quite similar to IBS, food intolerance and dysbiosis which is why many need professional help to understand if enzymes are lacking or something else is at play. Or a combination of both which I what I see quite often in my clients.) 

Making Enzymes

In order to make enzymes, our body needs quite a few building blocks. The two key ones being protein and zinc

And now we have the key issues - most people don't eat enough protein. Aim for around 1.0gm per kilogram of body weight each day.

And zinc is needed to help your body manage stress - as well as hundreds of other functions in the body. Not surprisingly, many people are low in zinc. 

And the vicious cycle begins - not enough to the key components so we can break down our food. Which in turn means less again of the building blocks and fewer enzymes again. 

Here's what you can do

What can you do to  ensure you break down your food properly:

1) Chew your food thoroughly

2) Avoid drinking during meals

3) Eat slowly to allow time for the body to release enzymes and the enzymes to do their job

4) Eat adequate amounts of protein (meat, eggs, legumes, nuts) and zinc-rich foods (oysters, pumpkin seeds, meat, chickpeas, cashews to name a few)

5) Eat raw foods rich in digestive enzymes such as papaya, pineapple, kiwi, avocado, banana, and fermented foods)

6) Eat the leaves of bitter herbs that promote digestive fire - dandelion, rocket/arugula, peppermint

7) Manage your stress levels

And for some a digestive enzyme supplement is needed - refer to the explanation of the types above to make sure you are getting the right one for you.

Or better yet, come see me and let's talk about the various ways you can support the break down of your food which results in a calm gut and more energy.

Nutrition, HealthSara Knight